With it's slope shouldered, close-fitting bodice, wasp waist and extravagantly full skirt, Christian Dior's New Look of 1947 is one of the most distinct and recognizable silhouettes of the twentieth century. In contrast to early 1940s feminine dress, which borrowed heavily from masculine military uniforms, the New Look exaggerated the curves and contours of the feminine form. To create this idealized female body, the New Look relied on a rigid framework of strategically placed padding and boning, not to mention corsets and petticoats. The full skirts of the New Look required a tremendous amount of fabric, up to 15 yards in some cases! After the restrictions and rationing of the World War II years, the New Look was scandalous in its extravagant usage of raw materials and in its presentation of the female body. Though perceived as shockingly new, the New Look was actually a return to physical ideals of the later nineteenth century and a continuation of a trend interrupted by World War II. Despite these precedents, when it appeared in 1947, the New Look was a watershed moment in fashion. Though other silhouettes achieved popularity in the 1950s, the New Look informed (either negatively or positively) all subsequent fashionable silhouettes through the 1960s.
The signature ensemble of the New Look was the Bar suit. A two-piece suit consisting of a pale, fitted jacket with narrow waist, padded hips and a black, mid-calf, knife pleated skirt--the famous mid-1950s image by Willy Maywald often serves as visual shorthand for the New Look. Though this suit was reportedly the best selling item from the first New Look collection, very few existing versions have found their way into museums. (If you happen to have a Bar suit hanging in the back of your closet, feel free to donate it to the FIDM Museum!) Though we don't have an original Bar suit in our collection, we are fortunate to have a replica Bar suit. Sewn from the original pattern pieces, it was donated to the FIDM Museum by Marc Bohan (then chief designer for Christian Dior) in 1981. Though many museums choose not to accession replica artifacts, we did so in the interest of research. Because we are affiliated with a teaching institution, this iconic garment is an important resource for students and faculty.